10 controversial moments in logo and brand design

From unpopular rebrands to offensive adverts, these logo and brand redesigns split opinion right down the middle.

Branding, logo design and advertising have always had the potential to stir up strong reactions, both in the design community itself and the general public at large. And the spread of social media means that, nowadays, the news can spread across the globe in no time at all.

Whether it's a rebrand that causes outrage because it undermines an already much-loved brand, an advert that provokes a torrent of complaints or just a widespread dislike for the creative work itself - there are plenty of examples to choose from. Here are 10 logo and branding designs that split opinion across the board.

01. BP's greenwash

BP rebrand
The BP rebranding initially caused controversy but has become a familiar sight

British Petroleum’s $200m rebrand in 2000 was part of a concerted effort to bring 'green' credentials to the global oil giant. Thereafter known simply as 'BP', the company adopted the tagline ‘Beyond Petroleum’ and a green-tinged 'Helios' mark - but it was met with considerable public skepticism at the time, with many parodies springing up.

Greenpeace ran a competition to create parodies of the logo - not a great PR win for the energy company

02. London 2012 logo

London 2012
It seems like an age ago that this logo was causing heated debate

This one's been through the mill for sure. Wolff Olins' £400k logo was unveiled on 4 June 2007 to an almost unanimous global chorus of derision - with 80 per cent of people in a BBC poll giving it the lowest score.

Of course, WO stuck to its guns and in the patriotic haze of the British Olympic summer it all paid off. Learn about how the logo was originally put together here, and read a spirited defence of the much-maligned design here.

03. Yves St Laurent goes nude

Yves St Laurent Opium
Who knew a nude Sophie Dahl would cause controversy?

Sporting a provocative, completely nude portrait of fashion model Sophie Dahl, Yves St Laurent's 2000 ad campaign set switchboards alight at the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), with 948 complaints. The ASA ruled that it was "sexually suggestive" and "likely to cause serious or widespread offence".


04. Gap's vanilla logo

Gap logo
Gap's attempt at a logo redesign was hastily withdrawn

Arguably one of the most famous design-based PR disasters in recent years, Gap's woeful attempt to rethink its iconic navy-blue box in 2010 sent ripples around the world - with absolutely universal damnation of its suggested replacement, which combined vanilla Helvetica with a simple gradient. It was withdrawn after a week.

05. Ashley Madison's Superbowl ban

Designed to encourage and facilitate 'discreet' extra-marital affairs, is a controversial proposition in its own right. So it's little surprise that its ads have been banned from the coveted Superbowl slot several times, including in 2011 - when a betrayed wife rips off her clothes and promptly joins the site to get her own back.

06. Starbucks pares things back

Starbucks logo
Starbucks rebrand was more successful than Gap's, but still drew complaints

January 2011 brought the coffee giant's decision to drop 'coffee' and even the word 'Starbucks' from its primary logo, bringing the iconic mermaid to the fore instead. Dubbed a "natural evolution", it also heralded the company’s move into different product ranges - but over 500 complaints were left on the company's blog.

07. Bad manners from KFC

Nudity and sexual provocation is one thing, but five years on this 2005 spot for Kentucky Fried Chicken attracted almost twice as many complaints - 1,671 in total. Why? Because the call-centre operatives in the ad were singing with mouths stuffed with chicken - which according to enraged parents, encouraged bad manners.

08. Facebook's redesign

Facebook redesign
Facebook's redesign had its users up in arms

It’s not easy to make changes when you're Facebook. The social networking behemoth's September 2008 redesign segmented the site using customisable 'tabs' - prompting a huge backlash, with hundreds of thousands of users setting up protest groups. The following March, another major redesign incorporated Twitter-style status updates, but drew 1.7 million complaints.


09. Animal cruelty from Paddy Power

This 2010 advert opens with a shot of a Blind Wanderers FC kit bag, and cuts to a blindfolded football match. A cat runs onto the pitch and gets booted - leading to 1,313 complaints about animal cruelty and offence to the blind. The ASA overruled on both counts, believing the ad to be surreal and light-hearted.

10. University of California's abortive logo

University of California logo
Another logo redesign that received universal condemnation and was withdrawn

Finally, the University of California's very own 'Gap' moment came in 2012, during which its modernised logo was dubbed a 'toilet bowl' and soundly panned. Created by an in-house design team, it was designed for communications materials and never intended to replace the official seal - but the damage was done, and it was withdrawn from use.

Words: Nick Carson

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